Mixtape #104: Poirier
The Montreal-based dancehall master takes us on a voyage from deep electronic vibes to a hype-splattered dancefloor, Montreal
Mixtapes > Mixtape #104: Poirier

When you conjure up images in your mind of dancehall and reggae music, you might not be seeing Montreal as the backdrop. Time to shake off those misconceptions and enjoy a mix that has a worldwide range of flavors, yet originated in this Canadian hotspot.

The sound of Poirier has been evolving over the course of 15 years and eight albums. What started out as ambient electronica has mutated and evolved into a sophisticated smorgasbord of dancehall tinged touchstones. He traverses fast-paced and skittering soca and deep treacle-bass reggae, adding in his own signature take and creating a sound that is somehow both idiosyncratic yet familiar.

For this FvF mix Poirier has delivered a musically and geographically diverse selection of cuts, some of which are so fresh that they have yet to be released. It starts out slow and deep with an almost electronic bent, before building up into pure dancefloor fire. We spoke with him to find out where he is at now musically, and just how he got there.

Tracklist

  • Poirier – Cobra
  • Dubbel Dutch – Rare Earth

  • Phon.o – Fukushima (Poirier Slow Edit)

  • Ariane Moffatt – Hôtel Amour (Dubbel Dutch Remix)

  • Seu Jorge – Mania De Peitão (Captain Planet Bootleg)

  • Titeknots – Mind Open

  • Fwonte – No Wanga

  • Richard The Third – Boss feat. Rebone

  • Teddy The Beer – BDME (Bien Dans Mon Époque)

  • Okay Funky – Bangarang feat. Raske Penge & Lady Smita

  • Gilles Peterson’s Havana Cultura Band – La Plaza (Poirier Remix)

  • Gardy Girault – Konpa Tech

  • Daniel Haaksman – Sabado feat. Bulldozer

  • DJ Jesus – Humbe Humbe

  • Poirier – Universal Peace feat. MC Zulu

  • Thomas White & Timbah – Love Letter

  • deadHYPE radio – Shake Meh

  • Famous Eno – Gangsters feat. Alexx A-Game, Serocee & Fox

  • Poirier – Positive Up feat. Face-T

How did you get started making music?

Around 1999 I was doing an electronic music show on college radio in Montreal. I was really into Warp Records and I was always playing Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards Of Canada. At some point through playing other people’s music I had my own ideas and I started to make music with the software I used to edit the radio interviews. It all followed from there.

So you started out making Warp-inspired electronica?

The first two albums I released, in 2001 and 2002, were definitely ambient electronic albums.

And when did your style start to change?

In 2003, on my third album. From the start I was always making hip-hop beats as well as ambient music, but I felt I was more mature on the ambient side and that’s why the first two albums focused on that sound. Then I started to feel confident enough to bring in other flavors, like the heavy beats from hip-hop. I began to integrate that in 2003, and I also started to play around with dancehall rhythms.

Your distinctive dancehall sound is arguably how you have established yourself, how did you get exposed to this style?

I’ve always listened to a lot of music, and I’ve been into hip-hop for a long time. I was also a fan of The Orb and Prodigy and they were sampling a lot of reggae tunes. I think hearing reggae and dancehall through electronic music and hip-hop brought me naturally to reggae and dancehall.

Is there a strong dancehall scene in Montreal?

There is, but I need to compare Montreal and Toronto because Toronto is a large Caribbean hub and the scene over there is huge. In Montreal the main black diaspora from the Caribbean is Haitian not Jamaican, so it’s a different background and the Caribbean music you hear in Montreal is not one thing but many things. A lot of different styles are popular amongst the Haitian diaspora in Montreal, so while they do love dancehall they also love carnival music and other styles.

As the scene is different in Montreal, do you feel like you’re operating on your own, like a bit of an outsider?

Definitely when I started DJing soca music, around 2005. When I started to play soca it was totally just because I loved the music. Nobody had heard it before, but I really liked its energy. I was playing a very fast-paced style called ‘power soca’ that is really made for the carnival. I was trying to raise the energy to another level in my DJ sets, and power soca was definitely a very hot spice to bring in the mix. For me playing soca wasn’t a very logical choice, it was a love choice, then it just worked.

How did people react when you started playing soca music?

DJing is always a question of timing. You can play pretty much anything, you just need to know when the perfect moment is. You can have a big song, but play it three songs too early and it won’t work. When I started to play soca, it was just question of timing to see when the energy was right to drop it, and then people would get into it. But if you brought it too early in the set or if the momentum is not right then it would fail. It was just a question of getting the timing right. And once you go in that territory of playing power soca it’s really important to have a plan to slow down after. You can’t stay at the level for too long so you need to manage how to slow down as well.

And how do you go about slowing down?

I usually switch to reggae and go to half tempo. A lot of Soca is 160bpm so I would go down to 80 or 85bpm, and it wouldn’t be too hard on people’s bodies because they already have that rhythm.

And that way you won’t give anyone a heart attack.

No, but they are really sweaty!

When did you start to DJ outside of Montreal?

In 2005. The first gig I had outside of Montreal was in Boston, with DJ Rupture. We had a collaboration together on his album in 2004, so that started me DJing outside of Montreal.

How did it feel when you started DJing in other places?

I would say you definitely have a different edge. You’re not with your people, you don’t know anyone in the crowd, so you kind of have to prove yourself more. From my perspective, when DJing you always adapt to the crowd and the vibe as it’s happening. I do that when I’m playing inside and outside of Montreal. I look at the crowd, how they react to the DJ before and what the general vibe is, and then I try to bring my own style into the mix.

What have been some of your most memorable DJ gigs?

Boomtown three years ago was super fun. It was great because I was sharing the stage with friends from Bristol called The Dirty Inspectors. We are longtime friends and we have pretty much have the same taste. We really went into groovy soca, more like 120 to 130bpm, and it was perfect and so fun. The stage we played is called The Hidden Woods, so it’s literally in the woods. It was a great vibe and a totally different set-up from playing an open space or indoors.

Igloofest in Montreal is always really memorable, too. It’s an outdoor event in the winter, with around 10,000 people dancing outdoors in their winter suits. It’s a crazy party–Montreal to the max. It could be like -5 or -20 and you have tons of people dancing. The whole set up–the site, the visuals, the team–is awesome. I’ve never seen something like that in another country.

You’ve made 10 albums over 15 years, how do you feel your approach to making music has changed over that time?

A big change in my approach started on my last album as Boundary and on my latest Poirier album, Migration. The approach was to involve more people, not only vocalists but musicians too, to enable me to reach certain sounds or certain instruments that I can’t play. For example, on Migration that’s my first album where there is guitar. I don’t play guitar myself so I had to ask a guitarist to play certain lines to go along with the song, and that was a whole different process. It allowed me to reach a different level of music and evolve my sound. The experience of not doing everything by myself, alone, was key in the process of making Migration. My position was in between a producer in the way that we envision it in electronic music, and a producer in rock music. If you think of Rick Rubin, he is a producer but he doesn’t play anything. He hardly even touches the mixing board, but he’s directing people to play a certain way, in the same way that movie directors do. It was integrating that experience on Migration that was the big difference.

Do you feel a different sense of ownership of the songs when you work with collaborators?

In a way, yes. On certain songs these people helped me to achieve a certain sound that they would probably not reach that by themselves, and nor would I. The fact that we collaborated helped us both to reach another sound that was not possible if we worked alone. I think that is art. The media tries to make us believe that a piece of art is the work of one person, but most of the time there a lot people involved in the process. For sure, you might have one person as the representative of that work of art, but if you look at credits for pop songs sometimes there are ten people involved in making a track. I think it’s natural and logical, but in electronic music we believe that we can do everything ourselves. It’s kind of true, but on the other side it is limiting because having more people to putting their ideas into the mix is a good thing.

Do you think this is an approach you’ll do again?

Oh yeah, definitely, it’s something I really enjoy and is the direction I am going in. It’s a longer process but I was able to reach something totally new for me.

Why did you title your latest album Migration?

I think it is the main issue of 2015 and 2016. It’s not only in the news right now, but it has always been relevant. There have always been people moving from one country to another, it’s just that  sometimes we talk more about these issues because they are closer to us. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (in Africa) for example, there has been massive, there has been massive mass population movement for decades, but no one talks about it. I was also looking at all the collaboration on the album, and a lot of the collaborators immigrated or migrated. It’s always motivated by the same idea or ideals–people change countries not because it’s fun, but because they are always seeking something better and they don’t like the conditions where they are. Either they look for better education, or they want to raise their children in a better environment, or there is war, or the government is too oppressive, or corporations are causing problems. Migration refers to all that.

Do you think your music is influenced by migration?

In a way it is a result of migration. Music is a conversation or a dialogue. It’s a meeting point, and music is beautiful for that.

Migration, Poirier's 8th album, is out now on UK label Nice Up! Records.

Thanks, Poirier, for the great mix and for putting Montreal on the dancehall map.
Feeling the beat? Listen to more of our FvF Mixtapes.

Text: Jonny Tiernan